Politics “back in the day”

Written by Bob McCormick on 11/07/2006 10:16:00 PM

With Election Day going on here in the US, my latest trip to the polls reminded me of one of my earlier trips back when I was in college.

Back in 1984, I was still a wet-behind-the-ears college student, constantly on the lookout for some spare change. My across-the-street neighbor happened to be the Democratic Party Precinct Chairman, and needed help running the Primary elections. I would net about $20 or so for my work signing up people (per the election rolls), and giving them minor directions on how to vote.

Here in Texas, as in most of the US, each of the major parties holds primary elections to determine their full slate of candidates – everything from President all the way down to local county judges. The positions that are part of each election depend on the term of each office – President/Vice President is every 4 years, Senate seats are every 6 years (2 per state, with staggered terms that usually preclude both seats being up for grabs), Representative seats every 2 years, and so on, with most of the remaining spots as 2 year terms. 1984 was a Presidential election year - with Reagan as the incumbent, the Democrats had to come up with a viable challenger.

At the time of the Texas primary elections (different states hold them at different times), Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, and Gary Hart were the main candidates. Others had been candidates but had dropped out due to losing state primaries before Texas held their primary.

The odd thing about the primary elections that year was that you did not actually vote for a Presidential candidate. Instead, each precinct had to form a caucus AFTER the elections closed (which was 6 PM or so on a Saturday), from which the people who had voted would form voting blocs to determine how the precinct would vote at a State district convention a week after the primaries. (Later, I was to find out that this feature of the primary voting was actually due to the “Jim Crow” heritage of some of the Texas state laws.)

I managed to stick around after the general primary election for the caucuses. I decided I wanted to vote for Gary Hart – I was suspicious of Jesse Jackson’s politics (and still am, to this day), and I was unsympathetic to Walter Mondale’s currying of the Big Labor blocs (which would ultimately bring him the nomination anyway). I was sympathetic to Gary Hart’s promise of “New Ideas”, even if he was vague about what those ideas are. Granted, this was all before Hart’s “Monkey Business” episode, which basically ruined his political career. (Note that Bill Clinton turned out to be a protégé of Gary Hart … but this was all way before then.)

I went to the State District convention, which, for our part of the greater Houston area, was actually held in the Webster Intermediate School auditorium (ironically, near where I live now). I remember the day distinctly because there was a torrential downpour most of the day. I also remember the convention as the first place where I really started to sour on the Democratic Party. I sat through about 6 hours of ridiculous delays in a stuffy auditorium as the convention tried to organize itself. Each group of voters (Mondale, Hart, and Jackson) had to organize themselves in a particular part of the auditorium. At one point, the district chairman suggested that the Jackson caucus form itself in the back of the auditorium, which would have been a pretty good place as it was about the only area with adequate ventilation. But the Jackson supporters took this suggestion as an insult, inferring that the suggestion was telling them to go to the “back of the bus”. He quickly changed his mind and suggested they caucus on the stage.

With the numbers that showed up, the Mondale caucus eventually had the votes to swing the convention (as they later would at the state and national level). However, what really started turning me off was everything else that was going on. In one area, there was a group calling for a Nuclear weapon rollback (obviously with the USSR). Their catch phrase was that the rollback would be a “Total, Verifiable” rollback – and if you didn’t agree with them on the spot or asked a question to help clarify what they meant, they would simply repeat their catch phrase 3 db louder. This was one of the party platform planks they would have. And as I sat through their railroaded party platform amendments, with each proposition more left-wing than the next, I had the almost uncontrollable urge to club a gay baby whale with a nuclear warhead, while searching for stem cell research funding. In my mind, the Democratic Party had “lost it” … and in my opinion, they haven’t found it yet.

OBTW – don’t ask me how I voted, ‘cuz I won’t tell you (I even directly mislead the exit pollsters at today’s polls). I’ve decided being an Independent is the way to go, and I don’t vote & tell anymore than I kiss and tell.

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